Wants and Needs

I want to write again.

I need to write again.

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Friday Five – Volume 120

It’s been six months since I last wrote. It may be another six before I do again.

These five prayers represent things or events that I have and will continue to pray about.

Natural disasters and their aftermath. A son about to leave for his second deployment overseas. Vocation and employment. My children. Peace.

These are prayers I found in Catholic Household Blessings & Prayers and Manual of Prayers. Both from my bookshelves. Neither collecting dust.

The excerpts prior to each prayer are quotes that I’ve been saving from articles read prior to my six-month absence. They don’t always “work” with each prayer subject, but they’ll do. Until the next time:

An Old Gaelic Blessing
May the road rise to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face. May the rains fall softly upon your fields. Until we meet again, may God hold you in the hollow of His hand.

[Manual of Prayers, page 296]

— 1 —

“God’s first language is silence.” In commenting on this beautiful, rich insight of Saint John of the Cross, Thomas Keating, in his work Invitation to Love, writes: “Everything else is a poor translation. In order to understand this language, we must learn to be silent and to rest in God.”

It is time to rediscover the true order of priorities. It is time to put God back at the center of our concerns, at the center of our actions and of our life: the only place that He should occupy. Thus, our Christian journey will be able to gravitate around this Rock, take shape in the light of the faith and be nourished in prayer, which is a moment of silent, intimate encounter in which a human being stands face to face with God to adore Him and to express his filial love for Him.

[Source]

Houston Police SWAT officer Daryl Hudeck carries Catherine Pham and her 13-month-old son Aiden after rescuing them from their home surrounded by floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Prayer for Protection During a Storm
Loving God, maker of heaven and earth,
protect us in your love and mercy.
Send the Spirit of Jesus to be with us,
to still our fears and give us confidence.

In the stormy waters,
Jesus reassured his disciples by his presence,
calmed the storm, and strengthened their faith.
Guard us from harm during this storm
and renew our faith to serve you faithfully.
Give us the courage to face all difficulties
and the wisdom to see the ways
your Spirit binds us together
in mutual assistance.

With confidence we make our prayer
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

[Catholic Household Blessings & Prayers, page 334]

— 2 —

Young man, be not forgetful of prayer. Every time you pray, if your prayer is sincere, there will be new feeling and new meaning in it, which will give you fresh courage, and you will understand that prayer is an education.

Remember, too, every day, and whenever you can, repeat to yourself, ‘Lord, have mercy on all who appear before Thee today.’ For every hour and every moment thousands of men leave life on this earth, and their souls appear before God. And how many of them depart in solitude, unknown, sad, dejected that no one mourns for them or even knows whether they have lived or not! And behold, from the other end of the earth perhaps, your prayer for their rest will rise up to God though you knew them not nor they you. How touching it must be to a soul standing in dread before the Lord to feel at that instant that, for him too, there is one to pray, that there is a fellow creature left on earth to love him too! And God will look on you both more graciously, for if you have had so much pity on him, how much will He have pity Who is infinitely more loving and merciful than you! And He will forgive him for your sake.” (The Brothers Karamazov, book 6, chapter 3 (g) – Conversations of Fr Zossima: Of prayer, of love, and of contact with the other worlds)

[Source]

A Prayer for One’s Vocation in Life
Lord, make me a better person: more considerate towards others, more honest with myself, more faithful to you. Help me to find my true vocation in life and grant that through it I may find happiness myself and bring happiness to others. Grant Lord, that those whom you call to enter priesthood or religious life may have the generosity to answer your call, so that those who need your help may always find it. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

[Manual of Prayers, page 302]

— 3 —

How often the grieving have said, “I never told him how much I loved him.” But if they did love, it would have shown; it did not need to be advertised. The words, perhaps, should not have been omitted; yet words are just words, whether uttered or printed in books. They might be words of fire and power – “winged words” in the Homeric vernacular – or mere formalities. Some are crucial; most are unnecessary. Often, silence says more than words.

[Source]

Blessing Before Leaving Home for Deployment (excerpt)
O God, you led your servant Abraham from his home
and guarded him in all his wanderings.
Guide this servant of yours, my son Nolan.
Be a refuge on the journey, shade in the heat,
shelter in the storm, rest in weariness,
protection in trouble, and a strong staff in danger.
For all our days together, we give you thanks:
bind us together now, even though we may be far apart.

May your peace rest upon this house,
and may it go with your servant always.

Grant this through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

[Catholic Household Blessings & Prayers, page 285]

Image source.

— 4 —

When we’re able to put aside our hang-ups about rejection and tell people honestly how much they mean to us and how thankful we are for them, it can entirely change a relationship. We no longer experience the world as separate individuals but in solidarity, mutually experiencing our bond together as a source of strength. If a relationship with a friend or family members seems uninspired, bland, or dispirited, perhaps it has something to do with you and me. A few simple honest words of appreciation can set things on a whole new course.

[Source]

Prayer for Strength
God,
we pray for our young people,
growing up in an unsteady and confusing world.
Show them that your ways give more life
than the ways of the world,
and that following you is better
than chasing after selfish goals.
Help them to take failure,
not as a measure of their worth,
but as a chance for a new start.
Give them strength to hold their faith in you,
and to keep alive their joy in your creation.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

[Catholic Household Blessings & Prayers, page 197]

— 5 —

Our world has become very noisy. The hurry has sped up. The distractions have multiplied, the blare has increased, and everywhere I look is advertising. Even books scroll by on monitors, backlit and shining in one’s eyes. And the eyes, all around, seem elsewhere. Man, without God, scurries towards a Hell he cannot begin to imagine.

Imagination itself has been “put to work,” selling things.

[Source]

Prayer for Peace: To Mary, the Light of Hope
Immaculate Heart of Mary,
help us to conquer the menace of evil,
which so easily takes root in the hearts of the people of today,
and whose immeasurable effects
already weigh down upon our modern world
and seem to block the paths towards the future.

From famine and war, deliver us.
From nuclear war, from incalculable self-destruction, from every kind of war, deliver us.
From sins against human life from its very beginning, deliver us.
From hatred and from the demeaning of the dignity of the children of God, deliver us.
From every kind of injustice in the life of society, both national and international, deliver us.
From readiness to trample on the commandments of God, deliver us.
From attempts to stifle in human hearts the very truth of God, deliver us.
From the loss of awareness of good and evil, deliver us.
From sins against the Holy Spirit, deliver us.

Accept, O Mother of Christ,
this cry laden with the sufferings of all individual human beings,
laden with the sufferings of whole societies.
Help us with the power of the Holy Spirit to conquer all sin:
individual sin and the “sin of the world”
sin in all its manifestations.
Let there be revealed once more in the history of the world
the infinite saving power of the redemption:
the power of merciful love.

May it put a stop to evil.
May it transform consciences.
May your Immaculate Heart reveal for all the light of hope.
Amen.

[Catholic Household Blessings & Prayers, pages 375-76]

Friday Five – Volume 119

— 1 —

For several months now I’ve been getting up early on Saturday mornings to watch an hour’s worth of Have Gun – Will Travel episodes. I remember watching the show as a young boy, but the fact that Paladin was such a learned and literate philosopher/hired gun was lost on me. A recently aired episode called The Education of Sara Jane involved a graveside back-and-forth that would not likely survive the editing room of today’s television studio.

In the mountains, Paladin comes upon a riderless horse with blood on the saddle. He follows the horse to the dead body of a middle-aged man. When the man’s daughter arrives, Paladin learns that her father is the latest homicide victim in a blood feud between two families. Over the father’s grave, Paladin recites John Donne and a back and forth follows between he and Sara Jane who interrupts with a string of vengeful Old Testament selections. Paladin counters with biblical quotations emphasizing love and forgiveness.

Heady stuff for a Saturday morning that could easily by missed as the exchange lasted under one minute.

“Any man’s death diminishes me for I am involved with mankind.”

“You get those words from the book?”

“Well they’re words from a book. It was written by a man named John Donne.”

“Words spoken over the dead should be from the book. ‘The Lord my God is a jealous God.’”

“God is love.”

“Honor thy father and thy mother.”

“Love thy neighbor as thyself.”

“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”

“Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.”

The scene begins at the 5 minute mark.

— 2 —

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading Anthony Esolen’s new book Out of the Ashes. Occasionally I have made an effort to highlight passages in the book as particularly relevant. I read this particular one about the time I read about Teen Vogue’s promotion of abortion to young girls.

The question remains. What does it mean to be a woman?

I hear the answer, mainly from a certain kind of woman, “It means whatever you want it to mean.” Sorry, but that is equivalent to saying that it means nothing. Women, in my experience, prefer their nihilism to be dressed up in perky relativist clothing. Relativism is nihilism for girls.

If we are to believe the women’s magazines on sale at groceries and drug stores, a woman is obsessed with her body, eager to learn new sex tricks, always on the watch for dirty revelations about pop-culture celebrities, prone to consulting horoscopes, ready to shell out a lot of money for new fashions, all-in for “safe” gay men who destroy one another’s lives rather than women’s lives, and firmly committed to “women’s health,” which depends on contraceptives and abortions and everything else that is meant not to restore healthy function to a diseased organ but to thwart the natural action of a healthy one.

If we are to take as evidence women’s political shows, a woman is loud, vulgar, screeching, ignorant of history, morbidly touchy, vindictive, smug, voluble in slogans, impervious to the principles of any coherent political philosophy, and ready to see the world as the she-bear sees it when her cubs are restless and the food is scarce. Men, for their part, would be boorish, violent, indolent, reckless, cruel, proud, and ready to soak the world in blood for the sake of a principle.

That is not what women are. That is what bad women are. It is what happens when you fail to cultivate the difficult virtue of womanliness, just as the thug and the lout are what you get when you fail to cultivate the companion virtue, manliness.

Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture by Anthony Esolen. Page 118.

— 3 —

Tracy Ullman has made me laugh since I first saw her video They Don’t Know in 1983.

— 4 —

Love is Not Tolerance
Bishop Fulton J. Sheen

Christian love bears evil, but it does not tolerate it.

It does penance for the sins of others, but it is not broadminded about sin.

The cry for tolerance never induces it to quench its hatred of the evil philosophies
that have entered into contest with the Truth.

It forgives the sinner, and it hates the sin; it is unmerciful to the error in his mind.

The sinner it will always take back into the bosom of the Mystical Body;
but his lie will never be taken into the treasury of His Wisdom.

Real love involves real hatred:
whoever has lost the power of moral indignation and the urge to drive the buyers and sellers from the temples
has also lost a living, fervent love of Truth.

Charity, then, is not a mild philosophy of “live and let live”;
it is not a species of sloppy sentiment.

Charity is the infusion of the Spirit of God,
which makes us love the beautiful and hate the morally ugly.

— 5 —

In January there was a debate about what word would be selected as the “Word of the Year” for 2016. At the time the Left was pushing for that word to be “fascism”. I maintained then, and still do today, that the word of 2016 (if not the last decade or more) should be “hypocrisy.” If you pay any attention at all in a non-partisan manner to the political events in America it practically leaps off the page or out of your television screen and punches you in the nose. Statements said by a Republican are abhorrent, until it’s revealed that a Democrat said the same thing and was cheered for it. A Democrat bill or legislation is reviled until or unless it is now a position of the Republican majority in Congress. It never ends.

Being a hypocrite in this manner demonstrates all too easily how critical thinking has been set aside. Instead of having to research and think about something, one can merely look to see which political party favors the issue and that alone will firm up the stance one takes on said issue. This shallowness also leads to each side attempting to co-opt a popular book, movie or character in order to, through relativism, paint their political opponents as evil or reaffirm their position as virtuous and good. For example, Orwell’s 1984 is popular with Democrats during the George W. Bush presidency, with Republicans during the Obama era, and now once more required reading for the Left in the Trump term.

The problem with this shallowness is that the truth is always deeper and more profound than this partisan preening. Thus it’s easy to point out that Republicans are not Nazis and Trump is not Lord Voldemort. The lazy way around an argument is to seize upon such comparisons. I get that. But I can’t help but laugh at the moral smugness and superior position assumed by those who are this lazy. It employs the same ploy used to shut down those we disagree with by calling them a racist/homophobe/xenophobe/Islamophobe/etc. By doing so we “otherize” those we deem offensive.

I could point out flawed logic from the Right as well but these are the two most prevalent themes I’ve been reading of late. (A quick Google search of “Trump is Voldemort meme” will show you quite a few, some of which did make me laugh at their creativity.) Thus, as Bart Gingerich points out on the Mere Orthodoxy blog, it’s quite a stretch for the Left to make such a claim regarding the Harry Potter world:

Why do progressives like Harry Potter? Ever since the election of Donald Trump, the left has been regularly referencing to JK Rowling’s popular books in order to rally the opposition to the new president. When you read the books closely, however, it’s a strange move. The contradictions of Millennials’ self-perception and insertion of themselves in the Harry Potter narrative can be quite drastic:

  • Opposing the Death Eaters in fiction while supporting abortion, euthanasia, and transhumanism in real life
  • Loving the boisterously warm-yet-poor Weaselys while visibly troubled by large families (and the sacrifices necessary to keep them)
  • Fascination with the authoritative traditions that order life in the Wizarding World while doing everything they can to destroy and dilute the same in the actual world
  • Reveling in the concept of godparents like Sirius Black while not actually participating in the baptismal liturgies and vows of the Church that create such relationships in real life
  • Longing for the committed, sacrificial love of the Potter parents while hesitating to enter marriage themselves and blowing up said institution by co-habitation and legal redefinition

Most recently, progressives have leaned on the series to oppose Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, identifying the newly minted secretary with Dolores Umbridge. How an advocate for less government oversight, more freedom of school choice, and the potential for increased moral formation in education could be conflated with a bureaucrat enamored with state oversight and questionable curricular hegemony is almost beyond me. Almost. But that is precisely the point.

It’s time to make critical thinking, and honesty, great again.

Carrying the cross of history

A little something I read on Ash Wednesday and wanted to share.

Rides the Sun

One of the greatest artistic evocations of the grittiness of Lent is Peter Bruegel the Elder’s 1564 painting The Procession to Calvary, which is housed in Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum [Museum of Art History]. The Procession to Calvary is a large work, five and a half by four feet, featuring hundreds of small figures, with the equally small figure of Christ carrying the cross in the center of the painting. Bruegel included certain familiar motifs in rendering the scene: the holy women and the apostle John are in the right foreground, comforting Mary; the vast majority of those involved, concerned about quotidian things, are clueless about the drama unfolding before their eyes. What is so striking about The Procession to Calvary, however, is that we are in sixteenth-century Europe, not first-century Judea: Christ is carrying the cross through a typical Flemish landscape, complete with horses, carts, oxen, and a…

View original post 97 more words

Friday Five – Volume 118

A week ago today was the first of six days of 70+ degree weather. Today it’s 23 degrees outside and as I look out my window all I can see is a large white flurry of snowflakes accumulating. Hello again February.

Friday Five-Mere Observations

— 1 —

Yesterday I mentioned three books I have been waiting to read in early 2017. I’m currently in the middle of the first book by Anthony Esolen. The second book in my “trilogy” is by Archbishop Charles Chaput. I picked it up a few days ago and plan to dig into it by the end of next week when I’ve finished Esolen’s Out of the Ashes. Robert Royal reviewed Chaput’s new book yesterday. I highlight this excerpt from his review as it speaks to what I wrote yesterday: I’m done with the complaints. It’s time to get to work. It’s time to rebuild.

Many people have recently worked this same ground, but none more astutely and with such breadth of cultural reference. Chaput brings together some of the very best secular as well as religious thinking about our situation: the American Founders, Tocqueville, Charles Péguy, Romano Guardini, Pierre Manent, Leon Kass, Charles Murray, Alasdair MacIntyre, even the great German poet Rilke, and many others. No brief account can do this book full justice. You have to read it, slowly, to appreciate its richness and texture.

But the wide-ranging social analysis is just a preliminary. The central question for us, right now, is what can be done. The answer, the Christian answer, is that there may not be much we can do on a large scale. But what we can do, however modest, we must do. Visiting the sick or dying, maintaining solid families and marriages, having the courage to speak when some human value is violated, being willing even to talk about God, in the right way, amidst a culture that wants, above all things, not to hear the name. Political action, too, as needed. The possibilities are infinite. And we cannot complain that “the times” are evil, because we are the times.

But even that is not enough. Chaput transports all these considerations into a different key by reminding us that the true Christian response to our predicaments is to live in Hope. Hope is not optimism – a foolish thing in a world so obviously wounded by sin and folly. Neither is it confidence in Progress, that 19th Century counterfeit. We have Hope, true Hope, he says, because 2000 years ago, in an obscure regional capital, a man – Jesus – rose from the dead, and defeated the world, the flesh, and – let’s say this openly – the Devil.

The world scoffs at such things, of course, and always has. There are a number of intellectual battles that must be fought to dispel wrongheaded scientific, social, and cultural assumptions. Perhaps the most challenging problem, however, is that the people who most need to hear such arguments are now virtually impervious to reasoning because of the way they have been conditioned to live. Chaput remarks, “The more problematic the behavior, the more sacred grows the liturgy of alibis.”

I like that term, though I hate what it stands for: the liturgy of alibis.

— 2 —

Another excerpt:

chaput_strangersKnowing “about” Jesus Christ is not enough. We need to engage him with our whole lives. That means cleaning out the garbage of noise and distraction from our homes. It means building real Christian friendships. It means cultivating oases of silence, worship, and prayer in our lives. It means having more children and raising them in the love of the Lord. It means fighting death and fear with joy and life, one family at a time, with family sustaining one another against the temptations of weariness and resentment.

And what about beauty? Beauty can be admired. It can be venerated. It can inspire gratitude or awe. But it cannot be consumed as a product or “used” for instrumental purposes without defacing it. Beauty doesn’t do anything … except the one most precious thing in life: It invites and elevates the soul beyond itself, beyond calculation, beyond utility, and thus reminds us what it means to be human.

Beauty, to borrow from Augustine’s thoughts on the First Letter of John, is like a ring a bridegroom gives to his bride, a sign and a seal of God’s enduring love. It’s the antidote to the deeper, demonic, pornographies of our age: anger, despair, vanity, violence, cynicism … beauty refreshes our hearts in this world while lifting us toward the next, “for here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come.” (Heb. 13:14)

— 3 —

While on the subject of beauty…

Several weeks back I mentioned having watched the movie Collateral Beauty in the theater with my wife. The usual cadre of critics lambasted the film but, as usual, I enjoyed what they were unable to grasp. I haven’t mentioned that I had a similar experience with another movie in January: The Sea of Trees.

Again, the critics tried to crush this movie in the cradle and to a large part succeeded. It was actually booed at the Cannes Film Festival and the once-promised theatrical releases largely cancelled. I was able instead to watch it on Amazon Prime. Yes, its pace is slow. Yes, the actors actually act and no CGI is involved. Yes, you have to be able to think and have empathy. Thus, critics and much of today’s movie audience were deaf to what the film was trying to say.

Again I will pass on offering a review. I do recommend the film and plan to watch it again in fact. From the Internet Movie Database:

Arthur Brennan treks into Aokigahara, known as The Sea of Trees, a mysterious dense forest at the base of Japan’s Mount Fuji where people go to commit suicide. On his journey to the suicide forest, he encounters Takumi Nakamura, a Japanese man who has lost his way after attempting suicide. The two men begin a journey of reflection and survival, which affirms Arthur’s will to live and reconnects him to his love for his wife.

— 4 —

skeleton-smartphoneHere’s a shocker. Social Media Are Driving Americans Insane.

Social media use has skyrocketed from 7 percent of American adults in 2005 to 65 percent in 2015. For those in the 18-29 age range, the increase is larger, from 12 percent to a remarkable 90 percent. But while an increase in social media usage is hardly surprising, the number of people who just can’t tear themselves away is stark: Nowadays, 43 percent of Americans say they are checking their e-mails, texts, or social media accounts constantly. And their stress levels are paying for it: On a 10-point scale, constant checkers reported an average stress level of 5.3. For the rest of Americans, the average level is a 4.4.

Know what else has increased in use?

To the uninitiated, the figures are nothing if not staggering: 155 million Americans play video games, more than the number who voted in November’s presidential election. And they play them a lot: According to a variety of recent studies, more than 40 percent of Americans play at least three hours a week, 34 million play on average 22 hours each week, 5 million hit 40 hours, and the average young American will now spend as many hours (roughly 10,000) playing by the time he or she turns 21 as that person spent in middle- and high-school classrooms combined. Which means that a niche activity confined a few decades ago to preadolescents and adolescents has become, increasingly, a cultural juggernaut for all races, genders, and ages. How had video games, over that time, ascended within American and world culture to a scale rivaling sports, film, and television? Like those other entertainments, video games offered an escape, of course. But what kind?

Read the entire article about video games here.

Neil Postman was right back in 1985. We are amusing ourselves to death.

— 5 —

One of my dad’s favorite recording artists would have celebrated a birthday on February 26th. I grew up listening to my dad’s Johnny Cash records, as well as Elvis, The Beatles and the comedy of Bill Cosby…even Charlie Pride now and then. But there was always something about Cash’s songs. They went just a little deeper, and even in my younger days I knew there was more “there” there. I highly recommend this article about The Johnny Cash You Never Knew.

It was a tough line, the line Cash was trying to walk — the line we’re all trying to walk between our worldly and spiritual lives.

Cash was once asked how he was able to reach so many people with his message without ever hiding his faith, and he gave a simple and perfect answer: “I am not a Christian artist. I am an artist who is Christian.”

Cash was revered by artists of every genre, from hip-hop to rock. Bruce Springsteen, Bono, and Snoop Dogg all admired the openly evangelical Southern man. And all because Cash transcended stereotypes and musical categories. He even transcended time, something that can be said of very few stars in any medium.

His 2002 acoustic take of Trent Reznor’s “Hurt” was about as courageous a recording as any ever made by a popular artist. Cash took that song, originally written about the pain of heroin addiction, and turned it into a reflection on his own mortality.

“The truth of fading beauty, forgotten earthly achievements, and broken human bonds, powerfully and yet wordlessly seep from the screen,” Steve Turner said when describing the music video, which peaks emotionally when Cash sings these words:

What have I become, my sweetest friend?
Everyone I know goes away in the end.

As he delivers those lines, the video cuts to a picture of June, standing at the foot of a staircase watching her husband. “Her lips quiver,” wrote Turner, “as though she knows that she is watching the man she loves singing his final testament.”

What no one knew as the video crew shot that scene was that, on the day before, June Carter Cash had been diagnosed with a leaking heart valve.

I’ve watch this video a lot over the years. I think it’s because when it flashes back between the younger Cash and the 2002 version, I see a lot of my own dad. In the words and in the images.

The library (and our culture) in decay

img_1807I’m currently reading Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture, by Anthony Esolen. Published in late January (and currently listed at #1 in New Releases in Sociology and Religion on Amazon), it is the first of three books I’ve had on my reading list since I read they were to be published early in 2017. The second is Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christina World by Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput (published this week) and The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation by Rod Dreher (due on March 14). I am halfway through Esolen’s book having bought it last week and he is setting a high standard for the other two. These books are building off of two books I picked up a few years ago: John Senior’s The Death of Christian Culture (written in 1978) and its sequel The Restoration of Christian Culture. Professor Senior was a founder of the Integrated Humanities Program at the University of Kansas who influenced and taught my diocese’s current bishop, James Conley.

I wish I was adept at providing book reviews, but will say that the reason I’m so interested in these books is not because they reaffirm how bad things have become in our culture as we’re all aware of that. I’m reading them because of the solutions they propose within their pages. I’m done with the complaints. It’s time to get to work. It’s time to rebuild.

The following excerpt is from the book’s introduction in which Esolen invites us to imagine a great manor house lived in by the Weston family. He begins a tour of the mansion (a metaphor for our former culture) in the spacious drawing room, continues into the library, and then proceeds to tour the grand house’s conservatory, ballroom and chapel. This portion is from his tour of the home’s library. I thought it presented a creative way of looking at where we’ve been, where we are, and provided a glimpse of the work that lay ahead.

Then we enter the library, with its high ceiling and large windows to the east and south and west that flood the room with light all hours of the day. A movable ladder on wheels runs along a track set eight feet from the floor, to allow access to a gallery that divides the lower half of the room from the upper half. Lord John Henry Weston, two hundred years ago, had the room built in this way. The lower half is stocked with books in several of the modern languages of Europe. They include novels, collections of poetry, histories, biographies, travelogues, and so forth. If you’re a nine-year-old boy and you want to read Humphry Clinker or Robinson Crusoe, or if you’re a little older and you want to read Pope’s translation of the Iliad, you can find them ready to hand. Or you can get lost there on purpose, as you might go forth into the woods on a sunny day, not knowing where the path will take you.

Lord John Henry devoted the upper half of the room to the upper half of knowledge and culture. There we find works in the ancient languages, Latin and Greek, and books dealing with philosophy, divinity, political constitutions, law, and natural science. The sermons of Lancelot Andrewes are there, near Erasmus’s edition of the New Testament in Greek and Hooker’s Ecclesiastical Polity. The legal writings of Coke and Blackstone are there, near Justinian’s Corpus Juris Civilis and the works of the Roman jurist Ulpian. Montesquieu, Bossuet, Pufendorf, and Grotius are there, and not just for decoration. Plutarch is there in the original Greek and in North’s sixteenth-century English translation. Homer, Virgil, Ovid, Horace, Hesiod—all the poets are there; the Hebrew Bible; various works by Augustine, Chrysostom, Gregory  of Nyssa, Lactantius, Jerome. It was the library of a learned man interested in everything human and divine.

If you moved that ladder now, you would notice, in the channels of its wheels, a thick coating of grime and mold. There was a bad storm fifty years ago, and rain began to seep through some broken shingles on the roof, dripping down to the plaster ceiling. One corner of the room is quite gray-green with mildew. No one has done anything about it. If you open that edition of Horace from the Aldine Press, you will be greeted with a dank smell.  Spots have begun to appear on the books wherever paper was exposed to the air. You let your hand rest on one of the shelves but then whisk it away at once, when you will a strange grit lying all about—mouse dirt. In fact, some of the spines of the books have been gnawed through.

The library is not abandoned entirely, though. In one corner there’s a table heaped with glossy hardcover biographies of celebrities, like Elvis Presley and Jim Morrison. That’s also where the most recent children in the Weston family have stashed their old schoolbooks. Lately the family has taken to using the room for storage, so we also find, crushed against one another, old hat racks, trunks full of outworn clothing, souvenirs from a trip to Disneyland, a sideboard that was supposed to have been repaired but never was, and photo albums filled with pictures of people no one can any longer identify.

From the Introduction to Out of the Ashes, by Anthony Esolen: “The Rubble”. pp. 5-7

abandoned-library

Abandoned library image source

Friday Five – Volume 117

After praying a 54 day Rosary novena from August to October, I fell out of the habit of praying a daily rosary. Recently I did a lot of reflecting on events over the course of my life and came to the obvious conclusion that during those times that I immersed myself in the praying of the rosary I was showered with graces. I do not mean to say that my life was easy and that I received everything I want. That would be childish and disingenuous. I mean to say that I was stronger and better prepared to face life’s challenges and that yes…I did experience many blessings in my life.

It is because of this that I recently recommitted myself to praying the rosary each day. To that end the first few items today are related to the rosary.

Friday Five-Mere Observations

— 1 —

Last October in National Review Kathryn Lopez conducted an interview with Fr. Donald Calloway, author of what I consider to be one of the best books of 2016, Champions of the Rosary. I encourage you to read the entire interview (it’s not too long) and am pasting a few of my favorite excerpts below.

FATHER CALLOWAY: The rosary has the power to set souls free because it is, in essence, the Bible on a set of beads. It is mobile and can be prayed practically anywhere. The holy rosary educates the mind, heart, and soul about the true teachings of Jesus Christ because its prayers and mysteries come from the New Testament. This grounds the rosary in the living Word of God, and it is that Word that gives us hope, healing, and new life.

[snip]

LOPEZ: Can a rosary really be a weapon?

FATHER CALLOWAY: The rosary has always been understood to be a spiritual weapon. When Mary gave the rosary to Saint Dominic in 1208, she gave the explicit instruction that it was to be used to overcome a heresy. She called the rosary a weapon, a battering ram, for the defeat of all falsehoods. In the New Testament, St. Paul stated that the Word of God is stronger than any two-edged sword and able to overcome all strongholds. Knowing that the prayers and mysteries of the rosary come from the New Testament makes it the ultimate spiritual sword for the spiritual warrior. Interestingly, at the beginning of the rosary’s existence, many people began to wear it on the left side of their belt in order to signify that it was a spiritual sword. In medieval times, a knight would unsheathe his sword from his left side since most people are right-handed. This is why even today priests or sisters who wear the rosary as part of their religious habit almost always have it hanging on the left side of their habit.

— 2 —

Another favorite book on the subject was written by Fr. Dwight Longenecker. In the introduction to his 2016 book Praying the Rosary for Spiritual Warfare he writes:

Consider darkness and cold. We perceive them as real, but darkness is nothing in itself. It is the absence of light. Likewise, although we shiver with cold, the cold is really only the absence of heat. Evil is similar. There is nothing positive or original about evil. Like cold and darkness, evil has no substance of itself. Evil is always either the absence of goodness, truth, and beauty, or it is a distortion and destruction of goodness, truth, and beauty.

[snip]

Seeing evil in this way gives us the foundation for battling against evil. In spiritual warfare, we will not so much wrestle with evil itself – that would be to wrestle with shadows in the dark. The way to counter the dark is to light a lamp. The way to battle cold is to start a fire. Therefore, instead of wrestling the shadows in the dark, we battle against evil best by supporting in prayer everything that is beautiful, good, and true.

— 3 —

Over on the GKCDaily blog, dedicated to the writing of G.K. Chesterton, I read an old post titled “The Revival of Philosophy—Why?” Taken from a book of essays first published in 1950 and titled The Common Man, I found that it spoke to me today in 2017. For example:

The best reason for a revival of philosophy is that unless a man has a philosophy certain horrible things will happen to him. He will be practical; he will be progressive; he will cultivate efficiency; he will trust in evolution; he will do the work that lies nearest; he will devote himself to deeds, not words. Thus struck down by blow after blow of blind stupidity and random fate, he will stagger on to a miserable death with no comfort but a series of catchwords; such as those which I have catalogued above. Those things are simply substitutes for thoughts. In some cases they are the tags and tail-ends of somebody else’s thinking. That means that a man who refuses to have his own philosophy will not even have the advantages of a brute beast, and be left to his own instincts.

Before those of you on the American political right look at these words and think derisively of elements of the American left with a smug look of derision, consider what followed:

I know these words will be received with scorn, and with gruff reassertion that this is no time for nonsense and paradox; and that what is really wanted is a practical man to go in and clear up the mess. And a practical man will doubtless appear, one of the unending succession of practical men; and he will doubtless go in, and perhaps clear up a few millions for himself and leave the mess more bewildering than before; as each of the other practical men has done. The reason is perfectly simple. This sort of rather crude and unconscious person always adds to the confusion; because lie himself has two or three different motives at the same moment, and does not distinguish between them. A man has, already entangled hopelessly in his own mind, (1) a hearty and human desire for money, (2) a somewhat priggish and superficial desire to be progressing, or going the way the world is going, (3) a dislike to being thought too old to keep up with the young people, (4) a certain amount of vague but genuine patriotism or public spirit, (5) a misunderstanding of a mistake made by Mr. H. G. Wells, in the form of a book on Evolution. When a man has all these things in his head, and does not even attempt to sort them out, he is called by common consent and acclamation a practical man. But the practical man cannot be expected to improve the impracticable muddle; for he cannot clear up the muddle in his own mind, let alone in his own highly complex community and civilisation. For some strange reason, it is the custom to say of this sort of practical man that “he knows his own mind”. Of course this is exactly what he does not know. He may in a few fortunate cases know what he wants, as does a dog or a baby of two years old; but even then he does not know why he wants it. And it is the why and the how that have to be considered when we are tracing out the way in which some culture or tradition has got into a tangle. What we need, as the ancients understood, is not a politician who is a business man, but a king who is a philosopher.

What I’ve observed, on social media at least, from my post situated between two factions of the country seemingly at war with each other is that there is very little deep thinking taking place on either side. The same insults and accusations are endlessly hurled blindly back and forth at each other. Indeed it seems to be one of the things both sides agree upon and have in common. I don’t have time to post examples as evidence and if I took the time to do so over the course of a few days would amass what should be an embarrassing amount of juvenile and petty jabs that appeal to base emotion and involves no thinking on the part of the audience. Chesterton continues:

Philosophy is merely thought that has been thought out. It is often a great bore. But man has no alternative, except between being influenced by thought that has been thought out and being influenced by thought that has not been thought out. The latter is what we commonly call culture and enlightenment today. But man is always influenced by thought of some kind, his own or somebody else’s; that of somebody he trusts or that of somebody he never heard of, thought at first, second or third hand; thought from exploded legends or unverified rumours; but always something with the shadow of a system of values and a reason for preference. A man does test everything by something. The question here is whether he has ever tested the test.

— 4 —

Also worth reading: Anthony Esolen’s column on today’s Public Discourse titled After the Exile: Poetry and the Death of Culture.

Academe has largely become an institution devoted to the destruction of cultural memory. Most of my best freshmen Honors students have never heard of Tennyson, much less had their imaginations formed by his eminently humane and approachable poetry. That is no reflection on Tennyson in particular. They have also never heard of Milton, Wordsworth, Keats, and any number of the great artists in what is supposedly their mother tongue. “Who the heck is Spenser?” asked a friend of one of my old students now pursuing a Master’s degree in English at an elite university. That friend was studying for the same Master’s exam along with others who had never heard of Spenser or never read a thing he wrote.

We are a people now illiterate in a way that is unprecedented for the human race. We can decipher linguistic signs on a page, but we have no songs and immemorial stories in our hearts. The pagan Germanic warrior could not read, and where were the books for it anyway? But he had centuries of song in his mind, and he well knew of that specially gifted man, the scop, who could sing by heart many thousands of verses about the old heroes and their adventures, and could even compose new songs of his own: wordum wrixlan, weaving patterns of words that were as intricate as the vermiculate embellishments upon the hilt of a warrior’s sword.

— 5 —

how-to-read-your-way-to-heavenWhile 2017 is still young I think I’ve found the book that will wind up being the book of the year. Written by Vicki Burbach (who resides nearby in Omaha) How to Read Your Way to Heaven is a terrific resource for those who have always wanted an organized reading plan that sees them not just through Sacred Scripture, but also through the Catechism of the Catholic Church and dozens and dozens of spiritual classics. There is a 5-year reading plan, but Burbach also made a one and a three year plan for those who wish to devote a shorter period of time to their reading. Expect to hear more from me about this book as I progress through the 5-year plan, but in the meantime I thought I’d end with this portion from the book taken from page 16.

One need only watch the news for five minutes to know that this world has become a bastion of paganism more and more emboldened in its persecution of those who choose to follow Christ. Everywhere we turn, secularism is the new religion. Worse, the world is fast becoming, not merely secular, but anti-God—and not only anti-God, but anti-everything-that-even-remotely-relates-to-God.

Daily we are bombarded from every angle with messages that are clearly designed to remove us one step further from our Faith or to cripple us within it. Whether social situations at work or school, the news, television shows, movies, books, advertising, or—the ultimate temptation—social media, the influences on our daily lives do virtually nothing to draw us closer to our calling as Christians to live the life of Christ.

The only way to shield our hearts and minds from the lies of a hostile culture is to fill them with reinforcements before we head out to battle each day. Additionally, the more we fill our hearts with the love of Christ, the greater the light we bring to the darkness around us. Spiritual reading arms us for all those daily battles with negativity, temptation, and sin, filling our minds, hearts, and souls with truth, building us in Christ, and strengthening us for combat.

Spiritual reading brings us closer to Christ and provides a peace and joy that the world can never offer.